FLORIDA SUNSHINE MILLIONS CLASSIC STAKES | PURSE: $400,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 1/8 MILES
Ron the Greek turned it on in a big way in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park Jan. 19, overpowering his state-bred foes by 11 1/4 lengths on a sloppy track as nemesis Mucho Macho Man finished last.
Last year, Mucho Macho Man defeated theson of Full Mandate by 1 1/2 lengths in the same 1 1/8-mile event, but this year the show belonged to 6-year-old Ron the Greek as 2-5 pick Mucho Macho Man gave way heading into the far turn and was pulled up in the stretch by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
"I can't find anything wrong with him," trainer Kathy Ritvo said of the Reeves Thoroughbred runner after an examination back at the barn. "I think he didn't like the track."
According to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, a dominant victory by Ron the Greek set the striking bay up perfectly for defense of his Santa Anita Handicap title in the $750,000 contest at Santa Anita Park March 2.
"We're looking ahead and maybe try to repeat what we did last year, maybe go back to California for the Santa Anita Handicap and try to do that over again," Mott said.
When jockey David Cohen angled out from the one hole on I'm Steppin' It Up and drifted Mucho Macho Man wide while the field was settling into position after the break, Jose Lezcano was the only rider to take the rail. He settled Ron the Greek down for a ground-saving trip in fifth, a little more forwardly placed than the proven closer is used to running.
"It was a good setup; he was a little closer than he normally is," Mott remarked. "We had asked Lezcano, if he could, to try to be a little closer. I didn't expect him to be that close. I thought he might ride him away from there a little bit and the closest he'd be was 12 lengths. I guess they headed down the backside and he's five, six lengths off the lead."
I'm Steppin' It Up went a quarter in :23.19 and Fort Loudon, vying on the lead to his outside, put a nose in front for a half in :46.59. Mucho Macho Man, favored at 2-5, raced along in third.
"The speed went well for him today," Lezcano said. "When I asked him at the three-eighths pole I had plenty of horse left."
Approaching the turn with Fort Loudon still in front after three-quarters in 1:11.03, Ron the Greek easily swept past his rivals while looping to Mucho Macho Man's outside as the field straightened away. He got the mile in 1:36.06 and cruised to the finish line under wraps, an easy winner in a final time of 1:49.19.
"It looked like he was in the bridle and running well. He put him in a drive and he shook loose, and the rest is history," Mott said.
Cash Rules and Fort Loudon completed the trifecta, with Atoned, Decaf Again, I'm Steppin' It Up, and Mucho Macho Man wrapping up the order of finish.
Ron the Greek, the 3-1 second choice, paid $8.40, $4.20, and $4.40 while Cash Rules brought $5.60 and $7.40 and Fort Loudon returned $9.
Bred in Florida by Jack T. Hammer out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Flambe', Ron the Greek improved his career record to 8-5-1 from 23 starts with earnings of $1,806,597 for Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, and Hammer. He exited a fourth-place finish in the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park to get his first win since taking the June 16 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.